William Branch Giles

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William Branch Giles
Representative in Congress
In office
1790-1798, 1801-1803
Preceded by
Succeeded by Theodorick Bland
In office
Preceded by
Succeeded by Abraham B. Venable, Wilson C. Nicholas
Delegate in the Virginia House of Delegates
In office
1798-1800, 1815-1816, 1826-1827
Preceded by
Succeeded by
24th Governor of Virginia
In office
Preceded by Governor John Buchanan Floyd
Succeeded by Governor John Tyler
District Representative to the Constitutional Convention of 1829-1830
In office
Preceded by
Succeeded by
In office
Preceded by
Succeeded by
In office
Preceded by
Succeeded by
In office
Preceded by {{{8thofficepreceded}}}
Succeeded by {{{8thofficesucceeded}}}
Personal details
Born August 12, 1762
  Amelia County, Virginia
Died December 4, 1830
Resting place his estate of "Wigwam" in Virginia
Education Hampden-Sydney College
College of New Jersey
College of William & Mary
Alma mater College of William & Mary
Profession Lawyer and politician
Spouse(s) Martha Peyton Tabb
Frances Ann Gwynn
Known for Anti-Federalist policies
Signature [[File:|left|200px]]

William Branch Giles (August 12, 1762 - December 4, 1830) was a prominent Virginian lawyer, Congressman, Senator, and Governor who studied law under Marshal Wythe at the College of William and Mary. He was an adamant anti-Federalist who advocated for the purity of the original Constitution and states' rights.

William Giles was born on August 12, 1762 in Amelia County, Virginia as the youngest child of William Giles and Ann Branch. The Branch family traces its roots back to 15th century England, where members ranged from woolen drapers to town mayors. In order to escape a crushing financial situation, Giles' ancestors left England for the promise of the new land. They settled in an eastern county in the Piedmont section of Virginia. Giles' father was influential in the county and a vestryman of the parish church. Giles' older brother, John, served in the Revolutionary War and received land in Kentucky.[1]

Giles attended Hampden Sydney College and then graduated from the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University) in 1781 with such prestigious classmates as James Madison, Henry Lee, and Edward Livingston. [2] After attaining his B.A., Giles decided pursue the study of law by attending the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. Giles' legal instruction was carried out under Chancellor George Wythe, the first law professor in America as well as a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Giles completed his studies, and was admitted to the bar on March 23, 1786. He then practiced law for several years in the small town of Petersburg, Virginia. [3]

In 1790, Giles was elected to the First Congress, where he served in the House of Representatives until his resignation in 1798 during the Fifth Congress. [4] However, during this time, Giles continued his legal practice and was referred to as "a lawyer of eminence" by his contemporary, Thomas Jefferson - another former student of George Wythe. [5] From 1798 to 1800, Giles served as an elected member of the Virginia House of Delegates. Upon the resignation of Abraham B. Venable, Giles was appointed to the United States Senate for the year of 1803. Giles was then re-elected to the Senate from 1804-1815 following the resignation of Wilson C. Nicholas. After serving another term in the Virginia House of Delegates (1815-1816), Giles was elected as the Governor of Virginia for four one-year terms. However, he only accepted to serve for the first three of these elected terms spanning 1827-1830. [6] Giles retired from politics in 1830, and died on his estate in "Wigwam" nine months later. [7]

Throughout his legal and political career, William Branch Giles was known for his "hard-hitting political attacks on individuals in the executive branch;" particularly concerning the Federalist policies of Alexander Hamilton. Giles even went so far as to accuse Hamilton of misconduct in office, and led an unsuccessful resolution for an inquiry, which could have led to Hamilton's impeachment. During his time in Congress, Giles worked with James Madison to build up the Republican party against the administration and the Federalist party in the House of Representatives. After the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts, Giles felt that the rights to critical free speech were becoming criminalized, and subsequently left Congress in protest. Returning triumphantly to Congress during the "Revolution of 1800," Giles was disappointed in what he felt was lack of action on the part of the Republican party. He consequently led a separate anti-Federalist Republican faction in the Senate until his retirement after the War of 1812. [8]

In the General Assembly, as Governor of Virginia, and as a member of the State Constitutional Convention, Giles "stood for localism and states' rights, agrarianism, and preserving the interests and power of the gentry." [9] But above all else, Giles championed the purity of the Constitution and his anti-Federalist policies. Upon Giles' death in 1830, Thomas Ritchie of the Richmond Enquirer commented that, "Mr. Giles, in point of native ability, was one of the first men of his country, and of his age. His views were extensive, the moral force of his character equal of that of any man we have ever known, and he was one of the first parliamentary debaters of his time. He has been in public life for nearly 40 years, distinguished in every station which he filled; in the executive chair, and in the Convention of Virginia, he has alwasy been in the first rank - and has left traces of his great talents upon the history of his country." [10]

William Branch Giles married Martha Peyton Tabb in 1797. He remarried after her death to Frances Ann Gwynn in 1810. Between his two wives, Giles fathered seven children. [11]

See also

Wythe the Teacher

Further Reading

(1) The Annals of Congress - Giles' speeches and resolution in Congress

(2) The Journal of the House of Delegates - Giles' speeches as a state legislator and messages to the General Assembly during his time as Governor

(3) Kevin R. C. Gutzman, "Preserving the Patrimony: William Branch Giles and Virginia vs. The Federal Tariff," The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography" 104 (Summer 1996), 341-72.


  1. Dice Robins Anderson, William Branch Giles: a biography, by Dice Robins Anderson (Menasha, Wisconson: George Banta Publishing Company, 1915), 1-2, accessed August 24, 2015.
  2. American National Biography Online, s.v. "Giles, William Branch," by F. Thornton Miller, accessed August 24, 2015; Anderson;William Branch Giles: a biography, by Dice Robins Anderson, 5.
  3. Anderson, William Branch Giles: a biography, by Dice Robins Anderson, 5.
  4. Library of Virginia, s.v. "William Branch Giles," accessed August 26, 2015.
  5. Thomas Jefferson, Letter of Jefferson, May 6, 1792, the Library of Congress cited in Dice Robins Anderson, William Branch Giles: a biography, by Dice Robins Anderson, 6.
  6. Library of Virginia, "William Branch Giles."
  7. "National Governors Association: The Collecive Voice of the Nation's Governors," (2011), accessed August 26, 2015.
  8. Miller, "Giles, William Branch."
  9. Ibid.
  10. Thomas Ritchie, Enquirer, Dec, 9, 1830 cited in Anderson, William Branch Giles: a biography, by Dice Robins Anderson, 209.
  11. Library of Virginia, s.v. "William Branch Giles."